4.Towards peace : Start of peace negotiations –Treaty of Shimonoseki and Triple Intervention

First moves towards peace

For the Chinese, the landing of Japanese forces on the Liaodong Peninsula at the end of October 1894 heightened the risk of the attack and capture of Port Arthur, base of its Beiyang Fleet, and meant that the area around the capital Beijing itself was increasingly under threat. When the city of Jinzhou fell on 6 November Li Hongzhang, Minister of Beiyang Commerce and Viceroy of Zhili, came to see that, to avoid prolonging the war, China must make peace with Japan.

On 26 November Gustav Detring, a German who served under Li Hongzhang as Commissioner of Customs at Tianjin, went to Kobe in Japan as Li's envoy. Detring carried a letter from Li to Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi suing for peace but because he did not have proper accreditation from the Qing government the Japanese refused to recognise him as a legitimate envoy and he was forced to return to China (Document 1).

At the same time preparations were being made for peace negotiations through the mediation of the United States. As a result of the coordinated efforts of Edwin Dun, American Minister to Japan, and Charles Denby, the American Minister to China, in January 1895 the Japanese and Chinese governments agreed to begin peace negotiations at the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters in Hiroshima. The Japanese government began to develop the framework for the negotiations. Work had already begun on setting the terms for peace and once these had been agreed a draft peace treaty was drawn up. Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi and Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu were appointed as Plenipotentiaries.

On 31 January 1895 Zhang Yinhuan and Shao Youlian, China's peace envoys, arrived in Hiroshima. However once again the Japanese government pointed to problems with the two envoys' credentials and broke off the negotiations at an early stage, forcing them to return to China (Document 2).

As a result, the peace negotiations came to nothing and the war continued.

Japanese forces land on the Shandong Peninsula and the Fall of Weihaiwei

With the fall of Port Arthur on 21 November 1894 China's Beiyang Fleet lost one of its home ports and Japanese Imperial General Headquarters decided to postpone setting up winter quarters and to press on towards Beijing. To strengthen its naval supremacy over the Yellow Sea Japan launched an attack on Weihaiwei on the Shandong Peninsula, the other base of the Beiyang Fleet where its remaining forces were lying at anchor.

On 20 January 1895 the units of the Japanese 2nd Army that had taken Port Arthur launched a joint action with the Combined Fleet and began a seaborne landing at Rongcheng Bay on the southern tip of the Shandong Peninsula.

> See Main Feature : 20 January 1895 Japanese forces land on the Shandong Peninsula

Under cover from the Combined Fleet's bombardment of the Chinese troops on the coast, the 2nd Army units were able to complete their landing and advance on Weihaiwei. At this point the Commander of the 2nd Army, General Ōyama Iwao, sent a message via Great Britain to Admiral Ding Ruchang, Commander of the Beiyang Fleet, urging him to surrender (Document 3) but the Admiral refused.

On 30 January the Japanese launched attacks on several of the gun batteries set up by the Chinese army to defend Weihaiwei. In the early stages of the fighting the Chinese bombarded Japanese forces from the batteries and from the warships in Weihaiwei Harbour but later the Japanese were able to use the batteries they had captured to return fire on the remaining Chinese emplacements and warships resulting in a fierce artillery battle between the two sides. As the fighting went on Japanese forces captured all the fortifications on the southern side of Weihaiwei and proceeded to attack the batteries to the north. After more heavy fighting they were occupied by the Japanese on 2 February (Document 4). In reality this marked the fall of Weihaiwei but as the remnants of the Beiyang Fleet were at anchor at Liugong Island in Weihaiwei Harbour the Japanese turned their attention to attacking the remaining ships. On 7 February Japanese army units and the Combined Fleet began an all-out assault from land and sea.

The Japanese carried out repeated bombardments from the captured forts around Weihaiwei while the Chinese returned fire from the batteries on Liugong Island. The Dingyuan, flagship of the Beiyang Fleet, sustained heavy damage and was scuttled by its crew to prevent it falling into enemy hands. With their fighting capability drastically reduced by the loss of their principal warship and facing internal disorder, on 12 February the Chinese sent a gunboat flying a white flag to deliver the instrument of surrender to the Japanese (Document 5). This document offered to hand over all Chinese warships, gun batteries and weapons to the Japanese while seeking guarantees for the safety of foreigners (military advisers etc.) accompanying the Chinese fleet (Document 6). It was sent by Admiral Ding Ruchang to Itō Sukeyuki, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet but having taken the decision to surrender Ding had already committed suicide (Document 7). Once both sides had signed the terms of surrender on 17 February the transfer of ships, forts etc. was carried out and Weihaiwei was occupied by Japanese forces (Document 8).

> See Main Feature : 17 February 1895 Fall of Weihaiwei

As a result of the destruction of the Beiyang Fleet at the Battle of Weihaiwei, the Chinese navy lost its fighting capability in the Yellow Sea area. Taking advantage of this situation the Japanese 1st Army based at Fenghuangcheng and Haicheng began a new advance on the Liaodong Peninsula. Firstly, the 3rd Division defending Haicheng, which had been besieged by the Chinese, drove back the surrounding forces and marched west, joining the 5th Division to launch an attack on Niuzhuang on 4 March. The fighting took place amidst deep snowdrifts.

> See Main Feature : 4 March 1895 Fall of Niuzhuang

Next, Japanese forces attacked and captured Yingkou and Dawaxian and the Chinese counterattack soon lost momentum.

Opening of the Peace Conference

With the fall of Weihaiwei on 17 February China's situation became increasingly dire. Having been unable to negotiate for peace at the end of January when its two representatives were not recognised by the Japanese as properly accredited envoys, the Chinese government appointed Li Hongzhang as its Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary with full powers. With the appointment of Li Jingfang, China's former Minister to Japan, as the other Plenipotentiary, the process of getting them recognised by the Japanese as China's official representatives began and preparations for the peace negotiations got underway.

On the morning of 19 March Li Hongzhang and Li Jingfang arrived in Shimonoseki (then known as Akamagaseki). They were received by Japan's Plenipotentiaries Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi and Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu and the following day the Peace Conference attended by the representatives of both sides began at the Shunpanrō, a Japanese-style hotel.

> See Main Feature : 20 March 1895 Peace Conference between Japan and China begins in Shimonoseki

Conclusion of the peace treaty (Treaty of Shimonoseki)

During the 1st Session of the Peace Conference on 20 March 1895 the Chinese requested that an armistice be signed to bring a swift end to the fighting between the two sides. At the 2nd Session the next day the Japanese laid down harsh conditions for the armistice: the occupation by the Japanese Army of the strategic locations of Dagu, Tianjin and the Shanhai Pass and the transfer of all Chinese military equipment to be found there; the operation of the Tianjin-Shanhai Pass Railway by the Japanese Army, and payment by the Chinese of all Japan's military expenditure for the duration of the armistice. The Chinese refused. As the Japanese were unwilling to make any concessions no progress was made on agreeing the terms of the armistice at the 3rd Session on 24 March and the two sides moved on to the peace negotiations while still technically at war. At the end of the 3rd Session, as the Chinese Plenipotentiary Li Hongzhang was returning from the Shunpanrō to his lodgings at the Injōji Temple, he was shot at by one Koyama Toyotarō (Rokunosuke) and sustained facial injuries. In the light of this event the Japan softened its position and on 30 March an unconditional armistice was signed (Document 9).

At the wish of the Japanese, Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands were excluded from the areas to which the armistice applied as Japan was aiming to get China to cede Taiwan as part of the peace treaty. On 23 March, while the outcome of the fighting on the Liaodong and Shandong Peninsulas was still being decided, Japanese army units had already begun landing on the Pescadores and were advancing towards Taiwanese territory. By carrying out a de facto occupation the Japan intended to force China to accept the cession of Taiwan included in the Japanese draft peace treaty.

Li Hongzhang's injuries were not serious and although he had to give instructions to Li Jingfang for the 4th Session on 1 April from his sickbed, by the 5th Session on 10 April he had recovered and was able to resume his seat. The Japanese put forward a draft peace treaty which, in addition to the Liaodong Peninsula which was already under Japanese military occupation, also included China's cession of Taiwan and the Pescadores. The Chinese vehemently objected but the Japanese Plenipotentiary Itō Hirobumi refused to concede the point and finally on 17 April the 'Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty' (more commonly known as the 'Treaty of Shimonoseki') was signed by the Plenipotentiaries of both sides without any relaxation of this condition. The main points of the treaty were: 1) China recognised Korea as a 'completely independent sovereign state', 2) China ceded the Liaodong Peninsula, Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands, 3) China would pay Japan a large indemnity, 4) China would open the 4 cities of Shashi, Chongqing, Suzhou and Hangzhou to Japan, and 5) Japan and China would sign a treaty of commerce and navigation.

> See Main Feature : 17 April 1895 Peace treaty concluded between Japan and China

Triple Intervention

After the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki there was a further ratification process in both Japan and China whereby each state officially validated the final decision to abide by the terms of the treaty. Japan was to receive the Liaodong Peninsula, Taiwan and the Pescadores by cession from China. When the terms of the treaty became public knowledge there was strong opposition from the international community to Japan's possession of the Liaodong Peninsula.

The course of the Sino-Japanese War was of great significance to those Western nations whose influence in East Asia had been growing in the latter half of the 19th century and so from before the start of hostilities right up to the peace negotiations various countries were trying to exert influence on Japan and China. Against this background, the fact that Qing China, its strength already diminished by the war, was having to make concessions to Japan in the treaty led a number of countries to become wary of increasing Japanese influence over China. Itō Hirobumi and his colleagues were well aware of this trend and, anticipating Western intervention over the terms of the treaty, are said to have been in a hurry to get it signed.

On 23 April 1895, shortly after the peace treaty was signed, the envoys of Germany, Russia and France visited the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to present their respective governments' advice that Japan relinquish possession of the Liaodong Peninsula (Document 10). This event is called the ‘Triple Intervention'. The main thrust of the intervention was that Japan's possession of the Liaodong Peninsula would threaten the security of the Chinese capital Beijing and render Korea's independence purely nominal, thereby endangering peace in East Asia.

Judging that there was a serious risk of military intervention by the three powers if their advice was rejected, the Japanese government held a series of discussions over its response, including a meeting in the presence of the Emperor on 24 April. They considered various plans including organising an international conference to negotiate the return of the Liaodong Peninsula, or seeking the co-operation of Great Britain and the United States to get the three powers to retract their demands. But fearing further intervention by the three powers at such a conference and failing to get British or American co-operation, the Japanese government finally agreed to accept the terms of the Triple Intervention.

Letters of ratification of the Treaty of Shimonoseki were exchanged between Japan and China on 8 May but, following the Triple Intervention, on 18 November Japan and China signed a ‘Convention of Retrocession of the Liaodong Peninsula' in which Japan agreed to return the peninsula and remove its forces on payment of an indemnity by China (Document 11).

Within 4 years the three powers involved in the Triple Intervention all obtained leased territories from China: Germany received Jiaozhou (1898), Russia Port Arthur and Dalian on the Liaodong Peninsula (1898) and France Guangzhou Bay (1899). In addition, Great Britain, which had already leased Hong Kong, also obtained a lease on Weihaiwei (1898). Thus one by one the areas of China which had been the centre of fighting during the Sino-Japanese War passed into the control of European powers. The same territories would soon become the threatre for a new war.

  • Document 1
  • Reference Code: B06150069800 Title: Detring comes to Japan bearing a letter from Li Hongzhang asking for peace
  • Summary of documents exchanged within the Japanese government when Gustav Detring, a German who worked as Commissioner of Customs at Tianjin, came to Japan as Li Hongzhang's envoy. It records the reactions within the Foreign Ministry from Detring's arrival in Kobe on 26 November 1894 until 29 November when he left Japan without achieving his mission. Image 18 onwards shows the letter from Li Hongzhang to Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi which Detring was carrying.


  • Document 2
  • Reference Code: B06150069500 Title: Visit of Zhang, Shao to Japan and Refusal of Negotiation Part 2
  • Part of a summary of exchanges within the Japanese government when the two Chinese peace envoys, Zhang Yinhuan and Shao Youlian, arrived in Japan. It records the Foreign Ministry's reactions from the envoys' departure from Shanghai, arrival in Hiroshima on 31 January 1895, meeting with Japan's Plenipotentiaries Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi and Foreign Minister Mutsu Munemitsu upto the exchange of letters of accreditation between the two sides. Image 36 onwards is a record of the meeting held in the presence of Emperor Meiji at the Imperial General Headquarters in Hiroshima on 27 January and gives details of Prime Minister Itō's explanation to the Emperor of the draft peace treaty and progress of the peace negotiations. However, at the first session of the peace conference on 1 February, the Japanese refused to recognise the documents presented by the Chinese delegates as letters of full accreditation and negotiations were broken off.


  • Document 3
  • Reference Code: C06061582600 Title: 23 January. Telegram from Ōyama, Commander, 2nd Army to Chief of General Staff, Imperial General Headquarters
  • Document giving the content of a telegram sent on 23 January 1894 by General Ōyama Iwao, Commander of the 2nd Army. to the Chief of Staff, Imperial General Headquarters in Japan. It states that on this date he had sent a communication via the Military Attaché at the British Embassy to Admiral Ding Ruchang, commander of China's Beiyang Fleet urging him to surrender.


  • Document 4
  • Reference Code: C06061962600 Title: 4 February. Report of Battle of Weihaiwei. Ōyama, Commander, 2nd Army
  • Telegram sent on 4 February 1895 by General Ōyama Iwao, Commander of the 2nd Army to the Chief of Staff, Imperial General Headquarters in Japan. It reports that on 2 February Japanese forces had occupied all gun batteries along the coast of Weihaiwei.


  • Document 5
  • Reference Code: C06061965500 Title: 13 February. Enemy gunboat approaching flying the white flag. Colonel Harada
  • Telegram dated 12 February 1895 sent by Colonel Harada Ryōtarō of 2nd Army Headquarters to Imperial General Headquarters in Japan. He reports that on this date a Chinese gunboat flying the white flag had brought news of Admiral Ding Ruchang of the Beiyang Fleet's intention to hand over all Chinese warships, gun batteries and weapons to the Japanese, seeking guarantees of safety for Chinese sailors and foreigners.


  • Document 6
  • Reference Code: C11080772900 Title: 14 February 1895, Forwarding correspondence on document about Qing's fleet surrende
  • Summary of documents exchanged between Japanese and Chinese forces at the time of the surrender of the Beiyang Fleet by Admiral Ding Ruchang. Image 2 onwards is the original of the instrument of surrender to Japanese forces sent by Admiral Ding to Vice Admiral Itō Sukeyuki, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet. The Japanese translation follows from image 4.


  • Document 7
  • Reference Code: C06061965700 Title: 17 February. Admiral Ding has committed suicide. Captain Kuroi.
  • Telegram dated 13 February 1895 sent by Captain Kuroi Teijirō of the Combined Fleet (to an unkown recipient). He writes that another envoy had come from the Chinese with the information that the previous day, when the instrument of surrender had been submitted, Ding Ruchang, Admiral of the Beiyang Fleet and Liu Buchan, Captain of the Dingyuan had committed suicide.


  • Document 8
  • Reference Code: C11080772700 Title: 20 February 1895. Telegram. Whole fleet has entered Weihaiwei Harbour
  • Telegram sent on 20 February 1895 by Captain Nakamura Yasuyoshi, staff officer of the Standing Fleet, to Imperial General Headquarters relaying the contents of a report received from Vice Admiral Itō Sukeyuki, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet on 17 February. Itō reported that the whole Combined Fleet had entered Weihaiwei Harbour on 17 February, that the transfer of the remaining ships of the Beiyang Fleet had been accepted and that the Kangji, with its armaments removed, had been returned to the Chinese for the transport of Admiral Ding Ruchang's coffin.


  • Document 9
  • Reference Code: B13090893100 Title: Signed copy
  • Original (signed) copy of the armistice signed between Japan and China on 30 March 1895.


  • Document 10
  • Reference Code: B03041163100 Title: 2 From 23 April 1895 to 25 April 1895
  • Summary of exchanges on the Japanese side following the Tiple Intervention of 23 April 1895. It contains the notes submitted to the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Tadasu by the German envoy Felix Freiherr von Gutschmid (image 1 onwards), Russian envoy Mikhail A. Hitrovo (image 5 onwards) and French envoy Jules Harmand (image 7 onwards).


  • Document 11
  • Reference Code: B13090895900 Title: Signed copy
  • Original (signed) copy of the 'Convention for the Retrocession of the Liaodong Peninsula' signed between Japan and China on 8 November 1895.